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Reporter’s Notebook: Trees, fiber, petition

Monday, June 3, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Heritage tree transplants see high success rates… Moving heritage trees within the city of Austin is no easy feat. It is, however, almost always successful. Out of the 20 transplant sites listed on the City Data Portal, all of the trees are thriving, according to Keith Mars, the Community Tree Preservation Division manager. He told the Austin Monitor, “Generally, it’s a very high success rate here. Let’s say 99 percent of everything we see that’s transplanted survives.” He does recall one transplanted heritage tree that didn’t make it. The tree, a large live oak, was in a highly urban area of East Eighth Street. After it was moved, “It flashed. It dropped all its leaves and never recovered,” he said. “That’s a rare thing.” Part of the reason most heritage trees survive the shock of transplanting is due to the technological advances that allow for better tree monitoring as well as site selection. But the big motivator, according to Mars, is financial. The city requires developers who move trees to put up fiscal to pay for the city mitigation requirement. Mitigation for heritage trees is 300 percent of the diameter of the tree. That means that for a 30-inch tree, mitigation would be 90 inches, and every inch costs the developer $200. To move that tree, a developer would need to pay $18,000. That fiscal is then held by the city for five years. “After that date, if the tree has survived then we will release the fiscal back to the developer,” explained Mars. Having a financial incentive for the survival of the tree has proved to be successful. Not only have the vast majority of transplants survived, but all but one of the transplants have been moved within the same property, which means that the trees remain under the auspices of the same developer for their recovery and the rest of their natural lives.

Mayor v. Petition… Mayor Steve Adler took to Twitter Sunday morning to address the new petition drive that is seeking to put before voters the question of whether the city should expand the Austin Convention Center. In a series of four posts, Adler questioned the claims and motivations of the cannily named Unconventional Austin, a political action committee formed by organizers who have been publicly opposed to the push to expand the convention center. Adler has been a vocal proponent for more than two years for using the expansion, which would be paid for with Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues, to enact other initiatives and tax revenue mechanisms to pay for homeless services and other city needs. Organizers of the petition hadn’t responded to Adler’s tweets as of Sunday afternoon. The petition drive would need to gather verified signatures from 20,000 residents in order to move forward with putting the expansion question before voters.

Google follow-up… Following publication of our story on Google Fiber’s slow progress in Austin, the company reached out. From the update: Daniel Lucio, a manager with the Google Fiber & Community Connections program, spoke with the Austin Monitor and explained that in the four years left in the Community Connections agreement with the city, Google Fiber is planning to connect to more sites. He said he is “optimistic” about more connections coming online and emphasized that although the construction is slower than expected, it is still ongoing. A “variety of issues” including permitting and difficulties with micro-trenching in the rights of way has led to delays. He emphasized that even though the agreement with the city was signed in 2013, construction for Fiber did not begin until December 2014. He confirmed that the Community Connections agreement is for “10 years of service from the date that the agreement was signed by the city.” As for extending the program past 2023, he said the discussions with the city were preliminary.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Chad Swiatecki.

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